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Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots

Parrots and allies (Order Psittaciformes) have evolved an exclusive capacity to synthesize polyene pigments called psittacofulvins at feather follicles, which allows them to produce a striking diversity of pigmentation phenotypes. Melanins are polymers constituting the most abundant pigments in animals, and the sulphurated form (pheomelanin) produces colors that are similar to those produced by psittacofulvins. However, the differential contribution of these pigments to psittaciform phenotypic diversity has not been investigated. Given the color redundancy, and physiological limitations associated to pheomelanin synthesis, this study assumed that the latter would be avoided by psittaciform birds. This hypothesis was tested by using Raman spectroscopy to identify pigments in feathers exhibiting colors suspicious of being produced by pheomelanin (i.e., dull red, yellow and grey- and green-brownish) in 26 species from the three main lineages of Psittaciformes. The non-sulphurated melanin form (eumelanin) were detected in black, grey and brown plumage patches, and psittacofulvins in red, yellow and green patches, but no evidence of pheomelanin was found. As natural melanins are assumed to be composed of eumelanin and pheomelanin in varying ratios, these results represent the first report of impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in animals. Given that psittaciforms also avoid the uptake of circulating carotenoid pigments, these birds seem to have evolved a capacity to avoid functional redundancy between pigments, likely by regulating follicular gene expression. The study provides the first vibrational characterization of different psittacofulvin-based colors and thus helps to determine the relative polyene chain length in these pigments, which is related to their antireductant protection activity. informacion[at]ebd.csic.es: Neves et al (2020) Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots. J Experim Biol. DOI 10.1242/jeb.225912


https://jeb.biologists.org/content/early/2020/05/08/jeb.225912
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Avian eggshells coping with solar radiation

Avian eggshells coping with solar radiation

Solar radiation is an important driver of animal coloration, not only because of the effects of coloration on body temperature but also because coloration may protect from the deleterious effects of UV radiation. Indeed, dark coloration may protect from UV, but may increase the risk of overheating. In addition, the effect of coloration on thermoregulation should change with egg size, as smaller eggs have higher surface?volume ratios and greater convective coefficients than larger eggs, so that small eggs can dissipate heat quickly. To test whether the reflectance of eggshells, egg spottiness, and egg size of the ground?nesting Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus is affected by maximum ambient temperature and solar radiation at breeding sites, reflectance, both in the UV and human visible spectrum, spottiness, and egg size in photographs from a museum collection of plover eggshells were measured. Eggshells of lower reflectance (darker) were found at higher latitudes. However, in southern localities where solar radiation is very high, eggshells are also of dark coloration. Eggshell coloration had no significant relationship with ambient temperature. Spotiness was site?specific. Small eggs tended to be light?colored. Thermal constraints may drive the observed spatial variation in eggshell coloration, which may be lighter in lower latitudes to diminish the risk of overheating as a result of higher levels of solar radiation. However, in southern localities with very high levels of UV radiation, eggshells are of dark coloration likely to protect embryos from more intense UV radiation. Egg size exhibited variation in relation to coloration, likely through the effect of surface area?to?volume ratios on overheating and cooling rates of eggs. Therefore, differential effects of solar radiation on functions of coloration and size of eggshells may shape latitudinal variations in egg appearance in the Kentish plover. informacion[at]ebd.csic.es: Gómez et al (2018) Latitudinal variation in biophysical characteristics of avian eggshells to cope with differential effects of solar radiation. Ecol Evol Doi 10.1002/ece3.4335


https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.4335